Tick on leafIt’s that time of year again, folks; the time of year that dog owners the world over dread. That’s right, it’s flea and tick season.  To help you out, here’s our primer on how to protect your pets from the most dangerous of those two bloodsucking baddies: the tick. To learn more about the tick’s menacing counterpart, the flea, check out September’s blog post, found here.

There are four types of tick that are prevalent in North America: the Deer tick, the Brown Dog tick, the Western Black-Legged tick, and the American Dog tick (also known as the Wood tick), with the two Dog ticks being the most common. All of these ticks have been known to spread potentially fatal diseases in dogs and cats, such as Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Canine Ehrlichiosis, and Canine Anaplasmosis, but tend to be less dangerous to humans (with the exception of the Deer tick, which can spread Lyme disease).

So how do you recognize these mini-menaces? Members of the arachnid family, like spiders or scorpions, ticks have four pairs of legs, can have a hard or soft shell, and are usually a shade of reddish-brown. They can be especially hard to notice or discover due to their incredibly small size; most ticks are roughly one-eighth of an inch long prior to feeding! After feeding, ticks can balloon up to half an inch long. Click here for a snapshot of common ticks and the diseases they can carry.

While found most frequently in wooded areas, ticks can lurk in the grass, shrubs, or other foliage in your lawn as well, so it’s best to employ as many preventive measures as possible to keep your pets safe. First and foremost would be utilizing a topical flea-and-tick medication like Frontline® Plus, Revolution®, or K9Advantix®, which can be purchased at your vet or at most local pet stores. One important thing to note when using a topical treatment: do NOT bathe your pet for at least two days, at the risk of washing the medication off. Lyme disease vaccines are also available for dogs, and can be administered by your vet.

Another good preventive measure is to trim any tall grass, bushes, and shrubs that could provide a shelter for ticks. Foliage and vegetation should be as close to the ground as possible. There are also some EPA-approved insecticides available that can be applied under shrubs and bushes and in other crevices where ticks are likely to hide. Don’t worry about spraying your grass; ticks prefer shaded, protected habitats, so those should be your focus.

Tick on dog

Also, make a habit of checking your pets for ticks after each trip outside. Focus specifically on the more-exposed patches of skin, such as in and around the ears, the areas where the legs meet the body, between the toes, and within other skin folds, as ticks prefer to settle onto patches of skin with as little hair as possible. Brush your fingers through your pet’s fur, applying enough pressure to sense any small bumps; an embedded tick can range in size from a pinhead to a grape, so spread the fur back and check out any lumps that feel suspicious. Depending on how far embedded the tick is, the legs may or may not be visible.

If you DO find a tick, it is essential to remove it as soon as possible, as ticks typically transmit disease in 24-48 hours of being embedded. The following is a how-to for tick removal; however, if you are nervous to try it yourself, or if the tick is in a hard-to-reach area such as the ear canal, we suggest calling your vet immediately and arranging to bring your pet in ASAP. It is a simple procedure for a vet, and they should be able to fit you in relatively quickly.



–          latex or nitrile gloves

Ticks on Dog–          tweezers (preferably fine-tip)

–          rubbing alcohol

–          small jar or empty pill bottle

–          skin disinfectant

–          antibiotic ointment


1)      Put on latex or nitrile gloves; this will protect your skin from any fluid it might come in contact with from the tick or bite site, protecting you from possible Lyme disease or other infection.

2)      Clean tweezers with alcohol to sanitize them.

3)      Fill jar or empty pill bottle at least halfway with rubbing alcohol (to dispose of tick in after removal).

4)      With tweezers, firmly grasp the tick at the top of the head, right where its mouthparts enter your pet’s skin; do NOT grasp the tick by the body! If you pull on the body, it could detach, leaving the head and mouthparts still embedded in the skin and your pet still exposed to infection and disease.

5)      With steady, gentle pressure, pull the tick straight up and away from the skin. Do not twist or jerk the tick. It may take several minutes for the tick to fully release its hold. Be patient. With continued, steady pressure, the tick WILL eventually release its hold.

6)      Place the tick in the jar or empty pill bottle you filled with rubbing alcohol earlier and seal it. You may want to bring this to your vet for identification later, especially if your dog begins to show signs of illness.

7)      Disinfect your pet’s wound with alcohol or another disinfectant to reduce risk of further irritation and infection.

8)      You may also apply an antibiotic ointment to the wound to help prevent infection and encourage faster healing.

9)      Clean your tweezers and dispose of your gloves.

How to Remove a Tick from your Pet Dog or Cat

Do not heed old wives’ tails such as using Vaseline or mineral oil to smother a tick, or holding a smoldering match head to it. These can actually cause the tick to burrow further, or release more of its disease-carrying saliva into the wound. Ticks should ONLY be removed using the steps above, or by your veterinarian. Still a little unclear as to how exactly to remove a tick from your pet? Check out this video, which shows you exactly how to do it.

Now that you’ve removed the tick and sanitized the area, you will still need to keep a close eye on your pet for the next three to four weeks to watch for any signs of illness or infection. Particular symptoms to watch for include:

–          Recurrent arthritis or lameness lasting 3-4 days or more (Lyme Disease)

–          Reluctance to move; stiff, painful gait; swollen joints (Lyme Disease, Canine Ehrlichiosis, Canine Anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever)

–          Fever, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes (Lyme Disease, Canine Ehrlichiosis, Canine Anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever)

–          Lethargy and/or Depression (Canine Ehrlichiosis, Canine Anaplasmosis)

–          Loss of appetite (Canine Ehrlichiosis, Canine Anaplasmosis)

–          Spontaneous nosebleeds (Canine Ehrlichiosis)

–          Bruising on gums and belly (Canine Ehrlichiosis)

–          Neurological signs like seizures and neck pain (Canine Anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever)

–          Vomiting and diarrhea (Canine Anaplasmosis)

–          Skin Lesions (Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever)

If your pet shows any of these symptoms, schedule a vet appointment ASAP, and bring the dead tick if possible. Being able to identify the tick will help the vet narrow down what disease, if any, your dog may have contracted.

We hope the prevention information we provided is useful to you, and that you don’t have to use the tick removal or symptoms guides! From all of us at DogWatch Hidden Fences, here’s wishing you and your furry friends a happy and tick-free spring and summer!

Photo credits:

1) Dariusz Majgier via CutCaster

2) Mark Robinson via Flickr(R)

3) Jeridu via iStockphoto(R)